Q: Dear Ken,
I heard you discussing Twitter on your radio show and I am hearing lots of people talk about it but I still have one problem: I don’t get it!
Can you please explain what all the hoopla is about to a non-techy person? — Sheila
A: Twitter is being referred to by many as the next evolution in the communication revolution. The first step in understanding Twitter is don’t try to compare it to any other current communication form (e-mail, text messaging, etc.) but as an additional way to communicate.
Text messaging did not replace phone calls or e-mail messages; it just presented a better way to communicate under certain circumstances which is what Twitter is providing.
Twitter is referred to as a ‘micro blog’ because each message is limited to 140 characters (spaces included) and is a way to connect to people either as a person that sends out messages (referred to as “tweets”) or a follower of those people.
When I first heard about Twitter, I had the same reaction that most have: why the heck would I want to follow the mundane dispatches of others?
Following someone that says “I just got to Starbucks and ordered my usual” has little interest for most of us, but following someone that says “I just discovered a new way to…” or “I just tasted a new wine that pairs well with…” or whatever your interests has tremendous value.
One of the real powerful elements of Twitter is its ‘one-to-many’ aspect that allows a simple way to communicate with a large number of people that share a common interest.
Sure you could seek these people out by finding their blogs online or join a forum discussion, but with Twitter the information that you want will seek you out (this simple shift alone is extremely powerful).
With Twitter, the folks that you want to hear from (celebrities, newsmakers, politicians or friends and family) can easily connect with you without the time drain of finding those messages in your Inbox. If you find that you’re text messaging several people essentially the same information on a regular basis, then Twitter would allow you to do it much more efficiently and allow all that are connected to join in the discussion.
Most of us are now gathering more of our news and topical information via various websites as newspapers and traditional broadcast media often lag the news that is instantaneous on the Internet.
With Twitter, you can simply “follow” the tweets of your trusted resources so that the news you seek is actually seeking you out — almost like a customized electronic newspaper… if a headline sparks your interest, click on it!
Another example that seems to resonate is how Twitter could help me get more information from my favorite wine bar. The vast landscape of wines, varietals and food parings is so enormous that unless you are in the business every day, you won’t ever learn 95% of what is available.
David, the sommelier at my neighborhood wine bar, always has interesting stories about some of the latest wine tasting and food parings that he’s experienced, but unless I happen to catch him when he has time while I am physically at the wine bar, I don’t get to hear about these new discoveries.
With Twitter, those that would like to hear what David learned today about anything in the wine world could simply ‘follow his tweets” about wine. The compilation of these short dispatches over time would create an amazing database of wine knowledge that I could have at my fingertips the next time I am shopping for wine anywhere in the world.
If someone you are following does not provide you with valuable information, you simply stop following them.
You can choose how you get these updates: only when you go to your Twitter page, in your e-mail Inbox, as a text message on your phone or for the tech savvy through an RSS feed and each person you follow’s tweets can be sent to a different place.
For instance, breaking news from CNN would appear as a text message on my phone but David’s wine tips would simply go to my e-mail.
Think of Twitter as a way to get only the communications that you want sent just the way that you want. Unlike e-mail, text messaging or blog surfing, you are not forced to consume the information in a single way; you decide how you want to get each feed.
If you want to follow along with me as I traverse the world of technology, feel free to follow me by going to www.twitter.com/TheDataDoc.
Data Doctors Computer Services
Data Doctors Data Recovery Labs
Data Doctors Franchise Systems, Inc.
Weekly video tech contributor to CNN.com
Host of the award-winning “Computer Corner” radio show